It’s official. "Platform Fever" has past the niche strategy phase and is the new fashion rage.
If you haven’t read Steve Yegge’s post on Google not embracing the platform religion it’s worth a read. I find Steve’s basic philosophy around driving an open platform orientation into the architecture of a company to be fairly compelling and his provocative candor is sure to raise the level of the dialog in the industry regarding the platformification of the internet.
New API Players are Coming Live Every Day
I’m fairly certain that readers on CMSWire are already familiar with the platform strategies and implementations of Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter and Salesforce. But what about these:
- EBay launched a new X.commerce platform last week allowing developers to create custom commerce experiences through simpler integration with PayPal, Magento, GSI Commerce and Milo
- Last month, Edmunds.com opened up its data to external developers. Among other data, developers now have access to vehicle specification and pricing for over 36,000 different trims of over 6,000 vehicle models from 1990 onward.
- Best Buy opened up its product catalog up in 2009 to developers everywhere.
- Netflix has exponentially expanded its reach by using a platform strategy, started in 2008, by allowing developers and partners to access and embed netflix data and streams into a myriad of devices, including every major TV set, mobile device and game platform.
- NPR launched its publicly available API in July 2008, designed with the philosophy of Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE), to the tune of 1.1 billion API-delivered stories per month to ultimately double its web traffic.
And, NPR is amongst the smallest members of the API billionaire club. Twitter supports 13 billion API calls in a single day!
API service providers like mashery, apigee, 3scale and layer7 are launching new APIs at such a rapid pace that I feel like I see a new one every few days… Oops I guess I understated it -- the semi-official count from last week was 52!
APIs are Becoming a Must Have Fashion Accessory
In my opinion, the adoption curve is about to start turning into exponential territory as open data and function APIs become the new "why don’t we have that" accessory that every executive demands. Open data is the new mobile which was the new social, which was the new AJAX, which was the new X. which was the new Y, which was the new spinning flaming marquee text which if you go back far enough was the first company website.
The previously mentioned service providers are making it seem easy by taking on the scalability, security, analytics and developer outreach; however, I believe that there are several things missing in this approach. In the mad rush to the inevitable API glut there are a handful of key concepts to keep in mind:
- Think of your data as content and yourself as a product manager -- What enterprises need is a thoughtful content strategy based approach that targets developers and partners as users and offers them compelling and coherent sets of data and functionality that begs them to develop unpredictable, monetizable coolness.
- Be in front of the questions -- In my experience, the best way to avoid the design by executive mandate is to be in front of it (e.g., "we’re already working on it… would you like to see our roadmap for launch and evolution?"). My advice is to start talking to product managers, content strategists, technology managers and security teams (yes you must involve them up-front if you want to avoid the last minute roadblock) to start laying out a strategy, roadmap and prototype project. If you don’t it’s going to be laid out for you or outsourced to the consultancies in order to meet the deadline.
- Ground your strategy in business reality -- This is not to say that you need to develop a 5 year plan with a detailed business case that passes the hard scrutiny of independent auditors. While it is obvious that you should have a monetization strategy, what is not so obvious is to have a strategy for how the proliferation of your data and functionality will complement your business model as a whole. eBay’s X.commerce platform surprised me this way not so much because it doesn’t fit, but because it does. eBay’s past missteps aside, what was once eBay’s achilles: its lack of meaningful experience integration, is now a non issue at worst and an asset at best. Its fragmented products are more easily chunkable and buyable as APIs and at once turns eBay into a more legitimate commerce competitor that Amazon must deal with.
- Developing a platform is not a destination, it is a journey -- Don’t sell this idea as a "if we do X we get Y" idea. Is creating a website a discrete ROI question anymore? An API strategy should identify a roadmap for breaking it out as a line of business.
- Have a strategy and commit to it -- Despite all the analyst and digerati speak resulting from Yegge’s manifesto the real nugget is this: COMMIT! If you think APIs are right for your business stop thinking in terms of projects and programs and start thinking of APIs as a religion. This concept of commitment is a concept that is applicable to almost any significant strategic play. The Bezos to Jobs comparisons that keep coming up, both in and beyond Yegge’s post, all have this in common: develop a belief in possibility, commit like a mad-man but be willing to adapt when it makes sense.
So, go west you new product managers, there’s gold in them thar hills! You just have to be willing to be a untrodden-trail-blazing, data-mine-digging, API-platform building strategist. The one thing you won’t have to be is a fancy-talking-salesperson, because if you are not talking about it yet, someone else at your company (or your competitor’s) is.